Hey there, how are you doing? I hope you’re well and so are your loved ones!
Today is the last day of Camp NaNoWriMo and I finished this project like I hoped I would. Also I got a bit further into book 2 of Worlds Rising, but that’s still too fresh (and many more chapters to write) to say any more about it here. I’ll keep you posted on the progress though!
Now on with book 1–here comes part 2 of chapter 18, in which we meet a new character!
Worlds Rising: Rebellion
Chapter 18 Part 2
“Keep going, Noushka, just a little further!” Tarek urged his daughter. He had insisted that she walk at his hand. He knew she would rather have clung to her mother, but Rona formed the tail of their little procession, hiking behind the other council apparitor, Ole, and the head of council himself, Mandras.
Rona and the two men could take care of themselves, but with Noushka Tarek wasn’t going to take any chances. The girl hardly reached up to his chest, and even old Mandras managed the steep forest trail faster on his long spindly legs. Thus, Tarek pulled Noushka along even though he feared she wouldn’t be able to keep up the pace for very much longer.
Back at the village, the chaos and confusion had long since converted back to military drill. A search party might already be on their heels. Every moment counted, and he wished, he could just pick Noushka up and carry her. But the dense undergrowth was difficult to maneuver as it was, and he needed at least one hand free.
“Just a bit further,” he pleaded with Noushka. “You see the small cove over there, beneath that slope? We can catch our breath there for a minute.”
The girl was much too breathless and scared to answer.
At least she had not fought him, when he had taken her hand. Tarek had always wondered what it would be like if Rona finally told her the truth about him. But Rona would hear nothing of it, and he had to accept that. The girl had always evaded his shy attempts to get closer to her. And since she’d started transitioning into this vague stage between childhood and puberty, she usually avoided him altogether.
Not now, though. Clambering along beside him, she held on to his hand as tight as she could. Her fear of the invaders was stronger than any discomfort she might feel towards him.
In that, she was not alone.
They had been extremely lucky. If it hadn’t been for Cole’s and Abbida’s crazy stunt–to steal an aircraft of all things!–Tarek would never have had a chance to get inside unnoticed. Much less sneak into the meeting hall and free his family.
Bringing Ole and Mandras along hadn’t been part of the plan. But as it were, they had to take advantage of all attention being on the escaping aircraft, and there had been no time to argue with Mandras.
In part, they owed their luck to the invaders’ arrogance, of course. These people just didn’t take the villagers for a serious threat. That needed to change! Tarek gave the gun at his hip a grim pat. Once they found a safe hiding place for Mandras and Noushka he was going to consult with Rona and Ole what to do next. He was not going to abandon his brothers again!
As promised, they reached the little cove and huddled underneath the slope for a breather. Ole, Mandras and Rona squeezed in after them, and Noushka scrambled to cling onto her mother.
“What now?” Ole said to Rona.
Tarek couldn’t help a smirk as he noticed Mandras’ sour look. The head of council clearly felt overlooked, and in a way Tarek could empathize. Nobody ever asked him for directions, though he was doubtlessly the one with the most field experience among the group. But who was he kidding? Just because he was the village’s best hunter and towered a head over Rona didn’t make him out as the leader of this little kamikaze mission. Not by a long shot.
Before Rona could say anything, though, Mandras puffed his chest and said, “We split up. The three of you follow the enemy and do some scouting. See if you can dig up their main camp. Maybe find out what happens to Cole and Abbida. We need to keep better tabs on everyone, now that only a few of us are free to move around.”
“Now you say that…” Tarek grumbled.
Mandras shot him a indignant look. “Noushka comes with me. I will follow the nearby stream to–” He interrupted himself. Completely unexpected, his cheeks turned red, and Tarek caught his breath.
“So there is a place to hide!”
Mandras didn’t answer that, but the face he made spoke volumes.
A jumble of thoughts and emotions went through Tarek. Naturally, he didn’t want Noushka anywhere near the enemy. And he did understand the need to keep the head of council safe. Hell, he’d have suggested the same thing, if Mandras hadn’t beat him to it. But something in the old man’s tone and posture made him uneasy.
“Why keep it a secret?” he protested. “None of this would have happened if–”
“It’s not that easy,” said Rona, interrupting him.
Tarek’s heart skipped a beat. Other than Ole, who was looking from one to the other in obvious confusion, she didn’t seem surprised at all. A sense of betrayal almost made him choke. “You knew about this?”
“Of course I did.”
“Then how come you never–?”
“When would you have ever shown the slightest interest in council politics?”
“This isn’t politics! You know damn well, I wanted to keep my family safe–all of us. Why do you think I brought it up in the meeting?!”
He knew he was yelling, and that it wasn’t helping. Worse, Noushka shrank back from him and with a pang of sadness, he realized this had to be expected. Rona had never appreciated his countless efforts to get closer to her and Noushka. Keeping vital information even from him was just like her.
“All right,” Mandras interrupted, “we don’t have time for this. The child and I will take refuge at a place only few people know of. Once you have gathered some information, meet me there, and we’ll come up with a plan.”
“Oh right, suddenly we’re making plans! A bit late, don’t you think, old man?”
Mandras shot him a furious look, lifted his staff and was about to clobber him with it, when Ole interrupted, “What are we talking about? Why am I the last to hear any of this? I work for the council, too, you know!”
Somehow, that took the tension out of the situation. Mandras had the decency to look slightly abashed, and Rona’s face smoothed a little, if only because she realized they were running out of time.
“Okay, so where are you going and how can we get in touch with you?” she said.
Still on edge, Tarek listened to Mandras’ explanations. Ole and Rona nodded their consent, the latter never batting an eye.
But she hadn’t counted her daughter in. “No!” Noushka cried, “I don’t want to go with him. I want to stay with you!”
The look of horror on his daughter’s little face pained Tarek, but before he could think of anything to console her, Rona cut him off, “You can’t! Where we’re going is no place for children.”
The sudden uproar of engines from the direction of the village emphasized her words: a convoy of ground vehicles setting in motion.
Startled, Noushka burst into tears, burying her face in Rona’s lap. Rona’s eyes went wide. Seeming conflicted, she patted Noushka’s back, while Mandras harrumphed and Ole fidgeted awkwardly on his spot. When the crying didn’t stop, Rona glanced up at Tarek as if for support.
He couldn’t take any more of this. Leaning in, he said, “Listen, sweetie, your mom is right. All of us will feel much better knowing that you’re safe. And how about this? I promise to look out for your mom and bring her back to you as soon as possible. All right?”
Noushka shrunk away from him, but her sobs let up a bit. From the safety of her mothers arms she peeked at him doubtingly, though in the corners of her eyes he thought he caught a hint of calculation. Noushka knew well enough that no amount of pleading would change her mother’s mind once she’d made it up. Sniffling and wiping her nose on her sleeve she said: “Promise?”
“Promise!” he said with all his heart. “I will protect her with my own life. Do you believe me?”
She hiccuped and her face twitched from sobs held back. Slowly, she nodded.
“That’s settled then,” said Mandras, and Ole sighed in relief.
Rona flashed Tarek a somewhat befuddled gaze that made his heart flutter. But nothing beat the feeling he got when he found Noushka looking up at him. With puffy eyes she gave him a shy little smile that would warm his heart for days to come.
~ to be continued! ~
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